5 Last Minute Holiday Ideas In Europe This Winter
If you’re considering a winter break this year, I’ve put together a few off-beat options to stimulate your travel taste buds! Whether you want a cheap last minute holiday or if you’d rather splash out on some of Europe’s best food and drink, there’s something here for you to consider.
Never let it be said that I don’t value a good ‘staycation’ (see my Instagram feed for photos from an autumn road trip in Scotland), but sometimes it’s nice to start the year as you mean to go on, exploring somewhere completely new and exciting.
Arriving into Bucharest for New Year’s Eve last winter, I realised it was the first destination in ages to give me that thrill of exploring the unknown. My trip was decided on a whim and I didn’t do much research beyond looking at the popular parts of the city and making sure my accommodation was well located. So unlike visiting Italy or Spain where I’m familiar with the culture and have certain expectations, Romania was a complete wild card. I’ll drink to more of that feeling in 2016!
Now here’s a few ideas for planning a last minute holiday in Europe this winter.
1. For trendy districts & eating options – Helsinki
If you’ve never been to Helsinki – what are you waiting for! Considered by some to be the new première Scandinavian city for foodies (they invented Restaurant Day), my post on things to do in Helsinki in summer is a great starting point, but I actually think you’ll love the added attractions of winter. Take all those great reasons to visit in summer and compliment with amazing Sauna experiences, sledding and snowmobile adventures, ice fishing and winter menus that include classics like the famous Blini’s at Lasipalatsi.
Finland has so many great cities and towns to explore that whether you want to take day trips from Helsinki or get right out into the frozen lakelands to find your own cosy log cabin, you won’t be disappointed (and you will be spoilt for choice). Consider the pretty towns of Porvoo or Hameenlinna for a day trip from the capital, and idyllic wilderness places like Mikkeli, Savonlinna and Rovaniemi for longer stays.
2. For arts & culture meets traditional Basque – Bilbao
On the northern coast of Spain, an hour from San Sebastián, is the artsy and enjoyable town of Bilbao. Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque region and has undergone an urban revitalisation in recent years, known within tourism circles as ‘the Bilbao effect‘. Partly due to the addition of a Guggenheim museum in 1997, the increase in visitors and other visitor attractions since then has made Bilbao a model tourism town.
With warmer weather than Britain, it’s a great size for exploring in 2 or 3 days, with interesting places to visit nearby along the river and coast if you have more time. A riverside walk will take you past art museums, modern architecture, poetry installations and graffiti, or you can also enjoy it on a boat trip. The gorgeous Casco Viejo, or old quarter, has small streets packed with quirky shops where you can find Spanish treats like Iberico ham for sale, and fresh pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) in bars.
A great town to visit for a short break (you can fly direct from many parts of the UK) or as part of a longer trip in the region.
3. For gorgeous sea views with home comforts – Malta & Gozo
A touch of Italian with a sprinkle of Arabia and a large measure of ‘Britishness’, Malta is a really interesting place to get your head around. See my impressions here. It has unique foods, mixed heritage and plenty of places to explore. There is the gorgeous capital of Valletta with it’s sea views, pretty streets and night life hotspots extending along the bays of the coast. The old town of Medina has world-famous glassware, and the cute hilltop town of Mellieha on the west of the island faces out towards another Maltese gem – the island of Gozo. Gozo is the bashful cousin of Malta, smaller, quieter and perfect for anyone looking for nature and peace.
For the best places to eat in Malta & Gozo, check out their 2015 restaurant awards for a plethora of great options wherever you are on the islands, there are hundreds of restaurants.
And if you’re there over the Christmas period, keep your eyes peeled for this intriguing character: The Artwork of Anthony Vassulo
4. For exotic smells, sounds and tastes, with attitude – Marrakech
Morocco may not be in Europe, but it’s close enough. (I could even see it across the straits on my recent trip to Gibraltar.) The travel time is similar to flying within Europe and you can find some seriously cheap flights from European hubs. The weather is good, the food is delicious, and the old town of Marrakech is always full of life. Whether you choose to stay in a riad, a hostel or a hotel, you’ll never be bored in this city. Be ready for armies of rip-off merchants though, by bartering hard and not trusting anyone who says the immortal words ‘no no, I don’t want any money, I only want to help you my friend’.
If you can refrain from getting angry at these insistent ‘tourist trappers’, the sounds of the minarets, the sights of the Djema el-Fna, and the treasures of the souks are yours to relish. Plus, it’s very reasonably priced and the weather should be a balmy 21°C average.
5. For a big city vibe & friends you haven’t met yet – Bucharest
If you want a cold, crisp and snowy winter, Romania’s capital might be the place for you. (See Beautiful Snowy Bucharest In 33 Photos.) With lots of big parks, great bars and coffee shops, and a nation with a long history (this is the home of Vlad the Impaler, where the legend of Dracula spawns from), there is plenty to keep you occupied in this city for a few days or more. Bucharest has a modern underground system which makes exploring easy, plus it’s not too big to walk around. Shopping-fans will find all they need in Bucharest, from big malls to small boutiques. It’s also teeming with great book shops so make sure you find a couple of the local favourites and check them out. Romanians aren’t the most outgoing people on the surface, but if you show some interest in their city and culture, they will happily tell you more about them and may even invite you out to show you the local food and drinks.
For exploring further afield in Romania, the small city of Brașov consistently gets rave reviews from travellers, and Lonely Planet have also named the region of Transylvania as one of their hottest destinations for 2016 – neither of which I’ve made it to, yet.
I recommended the places in this post as winter destinations because I’ve visited them during the winter myself. Which places have you visited in winter that you would recommend? Are you the kind of person who likes to take a cheap last minute holiday, or do you plan months ahead?
All photos are copyright © Peter Parkorr 2015 unless otherwise stated and shouldn’t be used without permission.